Education Dive.

Dive Brief:

  • The majority of Americans identifying as either Democrats or Republicans think the federal government should protect students from poor-performing schools, finds a new survey of likely voters by Third Way, a left-leaning think tank.
  • While 55% of respondents said they view higher ed favorably, larger shares said they were favorable of vocational or trade schools (83%), public community colleges (83%) and four-year institutions (69%). Just 34% said they viewed for-profit schools favorably.
  • Free college may not be as popular as some presidential hopefuls believe. A larger share of Democratic voters said they support more Pell Grants (90%) and requiring accreditors to consider student outcomes (85%) than free community college (84%) or free public college (75%).

Dive Insight:

Those surveyed indicated they want higher ed to do a better job of keeping up with the demands of today’s economy — and if it doesn’t, it should be held accountable.

The report’s authors also note there is less of a difference than some would expect between the responses from Democrats and Republicans.

A similar share of Republicans (82%) and Democrats (85%) believe accreditors should be required to consider student outcomes. Roughly three-quarters of both groups (78%) support shutting off federal aid to colleges with graduation rates under 15%. And about half of both groups (47%) support eliminating rules that limit federal aid to for-profit institutions.

Yet there are several policy proposals for which more dramatic differences emerge. A smaller share of Republicans (54%) support a new grant program for low-income and minority students than do Democrats (89%). Additionally, Republicans had lower levels of support for free tuition at community colleges (44%) and all public colleges (36%).

Federal oversight of higher ed, and particularly for-profit institutions, has become a prominent issue in the Trump administration and one for which the U.S. Department of Education has launched a regulatory overhaul. Earlier this month, the federal agency released proposed rules that would give accrediting agencies more leeway over taking action against institutions and make it easier for colleges to get programs approved.

While Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has touted the rules as a way to foster innovation, some higher ed experts say it will weaken the accreditation system and hurt student outcomes.

The issues within the survey are also a key part of negotiations over the potential reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Earlier this year, the Trump administration laid out its priorities for the overdue rewrite, including streamlining accreditation, reorganizing accreditors around mission instead of geography and expanding Pell Grants to short-term programs.